Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bare Bones of Writing a Cozy Mystery

So you want to write a cozy mystery. You’ve come to the right place. Where do you start you ask? Many writers face this same question while staring at a blank page. Let’s tackle this together and see if we can’t come up with the bare bones of writing a cozy mystery.

Before starting on our skeleton I want to explain what constitutes a cozy mystery. In a cozy the protagonist will be an amateur sleuth. Instead of law enforcement personnel, the cozy protagonist could be your local hairdresser, the local baker, a magazine writer, a landscaper or even your local soccer mom.

There will be a private investigator, detective or police officer working the case. More than likely they will not welcome your protagonist’s assistance. The setting is usually a small town or community. You can make up your own or use a real setting. The murder will always take place off stage and in a cozy the reader is two steps behind the detective. An example of what the reader will say: “I should have known that! If only I’d remembered Tom was a landscaper, I could have figured out that he had access to poisonous plants.”

Let’s start with the Cranium – ingredients that are essential to the story. Where do ideas for your cozy come from? Try newspapers or news stories. Don’t just focus on the front page story or television headlines. You might find your story in the smaller sections. Conversations are another good source of fodder. How many times have you overheard people talking while in line at the grocery store or eating at a restaurant? Carry index cards or a notepad to jot down inspiration. Now you’ve got your idea where to next?

Your cozy will need characters. A story happens to and because of someone, so characters are a basic ingredient. There are several ways to do this. One such way is to go online and find a form for building a character. There are some that will be several pages long and some that will have just the basics. You’re characters should be unique and make your reader care about them. Here are a few traits in building your character: vital statistics (name, birthplace, education level…), distinctive features (height, weight, physical features, ethnicity…), make-up (happy/depressed, talkative/quiet…), and occupation (how does he/she feel about their career…) the list goes on and on.

Another important ingredient for each character is goal, motivation and conflict and the best way to discover more on this subject is to read Debra Dixon’s “Goal, Motivation and Conflict.”   

Let’s move to our skeleton’s clavicle – setting. Think of the setting as the atmosphere of your cozy, the air your characters breath. This can be a made up town or it can be a real place. In my Trixie Montgomery Cozy Mystery Series I chose to use real towns. All of the buildings and roads that I mention are real places. To do this you need to either be familiar with the area through research or have a map handy. I’ve discovered readers enjoy identifying with familiar places.

Some areas to be aware of in your setting are the location, weather, transportation, population, economical level, and the general crime level. If you choose to make up your town or use a real one it’s important to make it realistic to the area.  

Let’s move on to the ribs that hold the important internal organs. What is the heart of your cozy? How will you give your readers a chance to solve the murder along with the protagonist? Clues. What is a clue you ask? A clue is something that is tangible. Clues can be the time of death, alibis, or things left/taken from the scene. Often found at the scene of the crime are clues such as fingerprints, fibers, hairs, blood, or murder weapon to name just a few.

How do you hide your clues? Use the clue as a line in a conversation. Humor is an excellent place to hide a clue. If it’s hidden in a form of a joke the reader will assume the information isn’t meant seriously. Give the reader an obvious clue then hide another one behind it.

Another type of clue that is essential to have is the red herring. And I’m not talking about a fish. A red herring suggest a trail to follow, but in reality that trail leads nowhere and has no significance.

Plotting is another important organ in the ribcage. Everyone will eventually discover their own method of plotting. Someone may ask you if you’re a plotter or a panster. I’ve heard of authors who almost write the book during the plotting phase or there are some who write by the seat of their pants. Which one am I?  I’m a panster. Getting down to the bare bones, it doesn’t matter which one you are because plotting is essential.

There are different models of plotting but one of the most popular is the three-act model. In the first act the protagonist’s intentions become clear to the reader. It consists of the first third of the book and will introduce the crime and the conflict as well as the characters, their interactions and the setting. To keep my notes/scenes organized I use Microsoft One Note.

Consider act two as the middle of the book. By this act the tension/conflict should be building. This is where your protagonist will do most of their sleuthing. He/she will have discovered the problem/conflict is not so easily solved. Several failures may occur before the success comes in act three. This is also the point when something in your protagonist’s life considerably changes. 

In act three the protagonist will reach a low point and the reader will wonder whether he/she will fail or succeed. The tension/conflict has reached a crescendo at this point. The subplots will be tied up and the sleuth finally has a confrontation with the villain.

Nancy Curteman sums it up nicely. The ending will reinforce the themes of the book – crime does not pay, people are basically good, love conquers all. Perhaps most important, the ending will demonstrate that the protagonist’s world will return to normal after the disruption caused by the climax – the librarian returns to the library, the school principal opens the school term on time, the knitting club resumes knitting. The end of a mystery novel must be short and concise, and must not introduce any new problems for the protagonist to solve.

Now we move to the most important part of our skeleton – the feet. Take your feet and run to the nearest computer and write. Steven King says in his book on writing, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all other: read a lot and write a lot.”
Deborah Malone's first novel Death in Dahlonega, finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer's Category Five writing contest! Deborah was also nominated for 2011 and 2012 Georgia Author of the Year in Novel category. She has worked as a freelance writer and photographer, for the historical magazine, "Georgia Backroads" since 2001. She has had many articles and photographs published, and her writing is featured in "Tales of the Rails," edited by Olin Jackson, as well as the "Christian Communicator." She is a member of the Georgia Writer's Association, Christian Author's Guild, Advanced Writer's and Speaker's Association and the American Christian Fiction Writers.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Eight Ways to Launch a Series--By Linda Kozar

When The Fat Ladies Sing Cozy Mystery Series

Not that I'm an expert or anything. I've come this far by learning, reading, listening and experimenting. Did I mention praying? Well I did that too. A lot of that.

Everyone knows that experience is what you get when you expected something else. And I've learned a lot by the experience of failure. But instead of curling up into a ball of self-pity, I used my stubborn drive to succeed in a positive way and a kept on trying new things.

Where ever you are in the publishing process, I hope you'll benefit from what I've learned. Of course we all know that experience is non-transferrable. Ask any parent. But you might just try to absorb some of this stuff and save yourself the trouble of learning the hard way. Like I did.

By the way, I'm still learning, and trying and doing. But mostly writing. Because I'm a writer, not a shady salesman flashing my books to readers from a dingy trench coat. The part of marketing that drives me is simply connecting potential readers with my books. The decision as to whether or not to like those books belongs to them. My part is to deliver on the promise, to meet reader's expectations, to be true to the characters, true to my voice and true to the God I serve wholeheartedly.

1.   Pick out an engaging name for your book series and your brand.

The first and second books in my series were contracted by Barbour Publishing back in 2008, but only the first book was actually published. Happily, I was paid for both!!! My editor and I were talking on the phone and in a burst of inspiration, she came up with the name for the series. At first I thought she was joking, but I soon realized she was serious, so I mulled it over in my head. It seemed like a good fit--intriguing, even engaging, so I agreed.

2.   Make sure each story revolves around the main character(s), along with a cast of interchangeable, yet memorable secondary characters. 

While the main character(s) should evolve and grow, resist the urge to radically change or cause them to act or react in a manner contrary to their personal code of ethics they've followed in previous books. Readers will feel betrayed, even angry if your characters behave "out of character."

3.   The books in a series should have a visual continuity that daisy-chains them together.

Visual cues stimulate a reader's memory. Each book should visually tie-in with the other books in the series. The books should be instantly recognizable to fans. My "When The Fat Ladies Sing" series covers (above) each have:
  • Similar slanted banners
  • Bright, cheerful colors
  • Quirky, playful art work
Another element to consider, one I have yet to implement, is to have all the covers in a series designed at once and to include a piece of a larger image on the spine of each book. When all the print books are together and in order on the shelf, the unique design would then be revealed. This is my dream!

4.   Include a list of each book in the series, linked to Amazon or other online bookstores.

The back of your book should include a comprehensive list of all books in your series, even those not yet written. List the titles you plan to write so your readers will keep checking to see if your new one has come out.

Each title should be linked to an online store where readers can conveniently purchase the other books in the series.

5.   Include a QR Code to your author website.

Google a QR Code Generator to create your free QR Code. You can even personalize the QR with a cover from your latest release or the first book in the series. Worked for me! Here's mine:

6.   Offer the first book in your series free for either a limited time or permanently.

This technique will trigger a large spike in sales of the other books in the series. The only downside might be a landslide of reviews from those who downloaded the free book. There will be good reviews and certainly bad ones as well.*

7.   Consider publishing a digital boxed set after the series is complete.

Readers who are new to your series will appreciate being able to acquire the entire set without waiting for the next release to come out. And if they become fans, they will eagerly look for other books you've written--ideally more series!

8.   Release a special Christmas (novella or short story) edition with a bonus of some sort.

*Many authors and publishing houses offer these books free as a way to interest readers in acquiring the other books in the series. It is actually better to offer this edition rather than the first book in the series free of charge. There isn't usually as much personal and financial investment (hiring editorial help, etc.) in writing a shorter book.

Include mouth-watering recipes appropriate to the season as a bonus to your readers. Or come up with other innovative ideas to satisfy fans.

Below is my Special Christmas edition set to release SOON. If you'll notice, it's not branded like the others. Why? Because I fell in love with the design and made the cover myself. And...I'm still experimenting.

My Special Christmas Edition releases October 2014

Linda Kozar is the co-author of Babes With A Beatitude—Devotions For Smart, Savvy Women of Faith (Hardcover/eBook, Howard/Simon & Schuster 2009) and author of Misfortune Cookies (Print, Barbour Publishing 2008), Misfortune Cookies, A Tisket, A Casket, Dead As A Doornail, (“When The Fat Ladies Sing Series,” eBooks, Spyglass Lane Mysteries, 2012). The series continues with, That Wasn't Chicken, 2014. Strands of Fate released October 2012), (Hardcover/eBook, Creative Woman Mysteries). Her latest foray into indie publishing, produced Alligator Pear, (historical fiction) and her nonfiction anthology Moving Tales, Adventures in Relocation, (2013). Doomsday Devotions released in June, 2014. She received the ACFW Mentor of the Year Award in 2007, founded and served as president of Writers On The Storm, The Woodlands, Texas ACFW chapter for three years. In 2003, she co-founded, co-directed and later served as Southwest Texas Director of Words For The Journey Christian Writers Guild.

In addition to writing Linda is Lead Host of the Gate Beautiful Radio Show, part of the Red River Network on Blog Talk Radio—interviewing Christian authors from Debut to Bestselling, airing the 3rd Thursday of every month. She and her husband Michael, married 25 years, have two lovely daughters, Katie and Lauren and a Rat Terrier princess named Patches.

Member of: CAN (Christian Authors Network), RWA (Romance Writers of American), NHRWA (North Houston Romance Writers of America), ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), Writers On The Storm, The Woodlands, Texas Chapter of ACFW, Toastmasters (Area 56) The Woodlands, Texas, The Woodlands Church, The Woodlands, TX.

Represented by Amanda Luedeke, MacGregor Literary.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Notes from a Conference First-Timer

In just about 15 days, I'll be going to the ACFW national conference for the first time.

I've already blogged about my worries (spilling water all over Chip MacGregor) and my goals (not spilling water all over Chip MacGregor.)

But what am I doing to do to assure I achieve my goals?

This should help with one goal at least...
For one thing, I bought a spiral notebook to take notes in, because the classes I signed up for are GOOD. I am thrilled to get to scribble madly trying to absorb everything the experts have to say. Plus, the notebook has a Where's Waldo cover which should be an awesome conversation starter if I find myself with nothing to talk about (ha ha ha ha ha! Like that would ever happen!)

Another thing I am doing is working like mad to make sure I have two completed manuscripts done by then. There is something about showing up with a finished, unpublished book that makes me feel like I will be getting the full experience. I have been to one day events in the past, but never with a finished, unpublished book.
I made agent and publisher appointments because I want to have that experience, but even if they did want the books (it's not like they don't have plenty to chose from!) I don't know that I would sell them. I'm kind of attached, and really, really want to have the first three Tillgiven books for sale by the New Year. (Oct 1, Nov. 1 and Jan. 1, respectively.) But it will take a lot of work to get there, with or without conference. (Side note: I hope to have Plain Jane 5, A Spoiled Rotten Murder done this winter as well.)

That said, I'm reminded suddenly that I only have FIFTEEN days from this moment to finish Tillgiven 2 before conference, so off I go to write! Next time I'm here, I'll be back from conference and can tell you all about it!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

CHEESE BALLS - Cynthia Hickey

Yep! I’m addicted to these round, cheese-covered balls of delight. As I sit penning my next who-dun-it, or tweeting about the mystery, or doing research, I’m crunching on these not-good-for-you, but taste mighty fine treats.


What does this have to do with writing you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

Many authors, have a go-to snack, that keeps them at the keyboard. When I was writing, Anything For A Mystery, I had a bag of dark chocolate M&Ms next to my laptop. Oh, and don’t forget the diet coke! Gone is the cliché of a mystery author sitting at their computer with a burning cigarette in an ashtray and a glass of some kind of spirits next to them. Today’s author turns to other vices.


There is something about treats, and comfort food, that helps me come up with a crime, a list of suspects, the actual perpetrator, and a satisfying ending.


Do these things actually help me write? I doubt it, because they aren’t healthy. I’d probably think better with a plate of baby carrots and low fat dressing. Still, these are my friends and they help me pen my next story.


What kind of snacks do you go to in a pinch?


Multi-published and Best-Selling author Cynthia Hickey had three cozy mysteries and two novellas published through Barbour Publishing. Her first mystery, Fudge-Laced Felonies, won first place in the inspirational category of the Great Expectations contest in 2007. Her third cozy, Chocolate-Covered Crime, received a four-star review from Romantic Times. All three cozies have been re-released as ebooks through the MacGregor Literary Agency, along with a new cozy series, all of which stay in the top 50 of Amazon’s ebooks for their genre. She has several historical romances releasing in 2013, 2014, 2015 through Harlequin’s Heartsong Presents, and has sold more than 200,000 copies of her works. She is active on FB, twitter, and Goodreads. She lives in Arizona with her husband, one of their seven children, two dogs and two cats. She has five grandchildren who keep her busy and tell everyone they know that “Nana is a writer”. Visit her website at www.cynthiahickey.com